Many gardeners and city planners are looking for a small sized tree that carries a big punch as far as fall color is concerned. In the south, we are very lucky to have the Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) as an option for these situations.
It would be difficult to think of a similar, small sized tree, that packs the same fall color wallop as Chinese pistache. Our native sassafras might fit the bill but it is more finicky to soil type and less available in the trade. The fall color with Chinese pistache is always spectacular, but one warning, it is variable. So far, most of what is available in the retail trade is started from seed so the actual fall leaf color varies from yellow to orange to pure red. If you must have a particular color, your best bet is to visit your retail outlet in October when plants are at peak fall color. When the colorful leaflets do fall, the leaf liter is not as troublesome as some other shade trees such as oaks, maples, and sycamores.
One reason many gardeners have gravitated towards Chinese pistache is the fact that once established, it is very drought tolerant. So far, there is no significant disease or insect issue to worry about with this tree. The tree does bear male and female flowers on different trees (called dioecious), but neither flower type is very dramatic. Female trees do bear a colorful cluster of fruits in the fall. The small fruits, which are shades of robin egg blue or red, are born on colorful red stalks. There are reports from some parts of the country where Chinese pistache seeds are sprouting like weeds (invasive). Long term we need the nursery industry to sell male trees with known fall color. In case you were wondering, this tree is related to the source of our delicious pistachio nut, which comes from a different species (P. vera).
One other warning. Chinese pistache is kind of gangly when young. It typically takes five to seven years for the desirable rounded crown to fully develop.
- Common Name: Chinese Pistache
- Varieties to look for: few; ‘Keith Davey’
- Flower Color: NS
- Blooming period: late April/early May
- Type: deciduous tree
- Size: 30’ tall by 30’
- Exposure: sun
- Soil: tolerant
- Watering: moist best
- When to prune: as needed
- Suggested use: street tree, parking lot, small lawn tree